BARRY GERAGHTY will be taking nothing for granted today when dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air has his final race before next month’s hat-trick attempt at Cheltenham.
The horse’s 11-race unbeaten run came to an abrupt end in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton when a couple of uncharacteristic jumping errors saw stablemate Verdana Blue prevail in a thriller.
However, Geraghty, now the fourth most succesful jump jockey in history after surpassing Richard Dunwoody’s 1,874 career wins, schooled Buveur D’Air at champion trainer Nicky Henderson’s stables and is confident of success ahead of today’s Contenders’ Hurdle at Sandown provided the snow continues to thaw.
Owned by JP McManus, whose legendary Istabraq was the most recent horse to win three successive Champion Hurdles, Buveur D’Air won the Sandown race in both 2017 – and last year – en route to Cheltenham glory.
Buveur D’Air is taken on by Colin Tizzard’s Vision Des Flos, the Evan Williams-trained De Dollar Man, Oliver Sherwood’s Rayvin Black and Roksana from Dan Skelton’s yard.
Worthy adversaries, but they should nevertheless pose little threat to the champion whose win over Samcro, the great hope of Ireland, in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle last December finally saw Buveur D’Air receive recognition – and admiration – from the wider racing fraternity for his consistency.
“I rode him work on Saturday, and he went really well. I’m very happy going into it,” said Geraghty last night.
“Kempton was a shock. You don’t presume they’ll win, even at 1-4, but to get nabbed like that was disappointing. The winner performed on the day. Whether the track suited her better – you can make a case like that, but he got chinned on the day.
“I don’t think the mistake (three out) made a big impact, but he was beaten a short-head, so it probably made the difference between winning and losing.
“It was an uncharacteristic mistake, but you couldn’t say it cost him five lengths.”
Reflecting on Buveur D’Air’s Kempton reverse, Henderson said: “Nothing significant came to light – he was no more sore than any other horse post-race and just got beaten by my flying machine (Verdana Blue). He does take plenty of work, that is why I want to run him – and the timing is good.”
Meanwhile, Vinndication is set to put his unbeaten record on the line in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase, Sandown’s Grade One race for rising stars.
The Vinnie Roe gelding won a Ludlow bumper and three novice hurdles last season, completing his four-timer in the Sidney Banks Hurdle at Huntingdon.
Keen not to overface his charge, trainer Kim Bailey made the bold call to sidestep the Spring festivals, and Vinndication has returned this season with two impressive displays over fences, most recently landing a Grade Two prize at Ascot.
The mount of David Bass, Vinndication was also entered in the Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby.
However, connections had already indicated a preference to race at Sandown, and at the highest level for the first time, before today’s fixture at the West Yorkshire track became the latest weather casualty.
“Unbeaten records are difficult things to try to keep going. He has done everything we have asked him to go and do, and hopefully he will carry on doing that,” said Bailey, who is one of a select few trainers to have saddled the winners of the Grand National, Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle.
“He is never going to be flashy at home and is never going to be flashy on a racecourse either, but he is just an interesting character. He would be an interesting person to have a drink with actually.”
Vinndication is already a stable star, of course. Bailey added: “Any horse that can do what he has done is very important to any yard – it doesn’t matter who you are. They are hugely exciting horses to get hold of, very hard to find and are treasured creatures.”
Vinndication is due to face four rivals over two and a half miles, including Tizzard’s Lostintranslation, who won at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, said: “Two and a half miles is perfect for him at the moment, and next season he could definitely be the sort of horse for a King George.”